Chapbook cover Hard Feelings _ McCarthy

Hard Feelings

Book Review by David (daithi) Hartnett

Hard Feelings by Elizabeth McCarthy (2024) poetry
ISBN: To be released on March 1, 2024
Price: ($15.99 until January 5th) $17.99, 34 pgs

In Elizabeth McCarthy’s new collection, Hard Feelings, the poet is immersed in the natural world that surrounds her. As in her previous collection, Winter Vole, the relationship is one of interdependence. Her capacity to observe, reflect, and validate flora and fauna about her is keen. Wittingly, she extends natural tendencies to her pets, to her family, and to herself.

McCarthy’s humor and irony draw the reader to these poems, as in “Afternoon Nap”, where she and her pets take a rest, but she warns us not to rouse “a room/full of hungry beasts.” In “Carrying Seeds” she is reminding us to “step lightly/and look closely at the seeds/with feathers, and all fallen/ beauty returned to the earth.”

In a recent interview McCarthy said that she honed the craft of poetry while the world was in Covid lockdown and she enrolled in an online MasterClass with Billy Collins and began watching his Poetry Broadcast on Facebook Live. There she found a community of poets and began a friendship with other writers including The Lockdown Poets, based in Aberdeen, Scotland who meet every week on Zoom. They collectively published a book called The Lockdown Poets–still here, published by the collective themselves in 2023.

When asked whether she favors any particular form, McCarthy said she hadn’t any other than free verse. She tries to keep her poems accessible—simple yet thoughtful. She’s influenced by the style of poets like Collins, Ted Kooser and Kay Ryan. Her poems often begin from a memory or experience in nature and find their way to the page, as in “Ruminating.”

Winter is long and dark
in the Kingdom
of cows and poets

where they wait
patiently in their stalls
for signs of spring,
ruminating on dead
red clover…

McCarthy has spent 35 years in Walden, Vermont and is attuned to the landscape and its inhabitants—human and animal. Humans as well as wild creatures can have their lives upended. The poet is a realist. As she says in “Lost Words. “One day you’re living your life like every other day before it/ and suddenly it changes/ and nothing is the same…”

McCarthy is a master of metaphor, especially when she writes of both the joy and pain of having raised children who have fledged. This is paradox so poignantly expressed that it may bring the reader to tears. “Flying Home” and the other poems in this collection are worthy of comparison to the seminal poets who have influenced her:

I wonder if birds
feel the same silent
melancholy when seeing
their empty nest

Do they recognize their fledglings
and see them flourish and fly
on their own, or have they
lost them somewhere
in the flight path of time? …

~ David (daithi) Hartnett, PSOV Executive Secretary (elect)

edited by George Longenecker, PSOV Executive Secretary

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